Monday, February 25, 2013

First network TV game for Larry Bird (2/25/1979)

Indiana State began the 1978-79 college basketball season unranked and did not appear on the original NBC TV schedule. But as the Sycamores remained unbeaten and star player Larry Bird emerged as the consensus national player of the year, attention started increasing on the team and its talented forward. Eventually, NBC decided to add a late-season Indiana State game to the schedule so it could showcase Bird before the NCAA tournament.

Many fans were at least aware of Bird. The Boston Celtics selected him in the first round of 1978 NBA draft, but he still had eligibility left and returned to school for his senior season. Sports Illustrated put Bird on the cover of its college hoop preview his junior year and profiled the team in an article early in 1979. But the sport received relatively limited coverage in the pre-ESPN era and Bird's teams had never qualified for the NCAA tournament, so most fans had still not seen him play.

NBC sent Jim Simpson and Al McGuire to Terre Haute to call the Sunday 2/25/1979 contest against Wichita State. And Bird put on a brilliant 49 point performance as Indiana State went to 26-0.

Despite the NBC coverage, not all parts of the nation got a chance to see Bird that day. For one thing, NBC did a regional telecast of a South Carolina game in the same timeslot (although the network did send the Indiana State game to most of the country). Also, some NBC affiliates pre-empted the network games for local programming.

Earlier in the season, Indiana State had become the focus of an on-air debate between McGuire and co-analyst Billy Packer. McGuire believed the undefeated Sycamores deserved to move up to #1 in the polls while Packer was rather vocal in his disagreement. This drew such ire among Indiana State fans that Packer actually received death threats. NBC played it safe and avoided assigning him to the 2/25 Indiana State game. Packer instead worked the game in Louisville which opened the NBC doubleheader that afternoon.

Indiana State ascended to #1 in the polls the next day and backed up the ranking by advancing all the way to the national championship game. NBC did send Packer (with Simpson) to call the Indiana State games for the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament. For the Final Four, Packer joined McGuire and Dick Enberg. The Bird vs. Magic championship game against Michigan State remains the highest rated college basketball game of all time.

Looking back at how relatively few schools NBC tended to select for its featured Sunday telecasts, it is quite interesting to note that NBC put its spotlight on a 1979 Missouri Valley regular season game! And while this remains the signature event in Sycamore regular season history, I find it ironic that the memorable moments section of the official Indiana State basketball record book lists the wrong date for this game.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Season 3 of Feherty show on Golf Channel

The new season of the entertaining Feherty show debuts Monday 2/25 at 10 pm ET on Golf Channel with special guest Jack Nicklaus. The unique show hosted by CBS golf analyst David Feherty is well worth a season series recording on the DVR.

Other interview subjects for season 3 include Phil Mickelson, Colin Montgomerie, plus many with a connection to broadcasting including Jim Nantz, Paul Azinger, and Bob Knight. My favorite past episodes featured others who also had a TV background such as Ken VenturiJohnny Miller, and Lee Trevino.

Here is a preview of the Nicklaus show:

Monday, February 18, 2013

History of #1 analyst demotions

<UPDATE 6/9/2016: Added the demotions of Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci as co-#1 Fox MLB analysts.>

<UPDATE 9/16/2013: Added the demotion of Clark Kellogg as lead CBS college basketball analyst.>

CBS analyst Phil Simms received many unfavorable reviews for his recent Super Bowl 47 broadcast performance and some critics have even suggested that CBS might (or should) demote him from the lead NFL analyst position.

phil simmsSimms has been the #1 NFL analyst at CBS for 15 seasons. He started there in 1998 working alongside Greg Gumbel and has been paired with Jim Nantz since 2004. For the three years prior to his CBS stint, he was one of two analysts on the #1 crew for NBC.

The post-Super Bowl speculation regarding CBS and Simms got me wondering about the historical frequency of such a move. So I decided to research cases where a TV network actually demoted its #1 analyst. Specifically, I looked at situations where CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox covered a sport using multiple announcer teams and I focused on the NFL, NBA, MLB, college basketball and college football.

For the purposes of this post, I am defining demotion as a case where the former "A" team analyst returns to the same network the following season on a lower tier broadcast crew.

Based on this research, no lead analyst with the longevity of Simms has ever been demoted to a lower tier crew on the same network. I only found 7 instances where a network demoted a #1 analyst who had been in that position for at least 5 years. In two of those cases, the "demoted" analyst actually moved into a play-by-play position. And in four of those cases, the network made the move to fit a newly hired broadcaster onto the "A" team.

Here is a closer look at those seven demotions ordered by longest tenure:

Tony Kubek (14 years as lead NBC MLB analyst)

Kubek had been the top analyst for the NBC baseball Game of the Week from 1969-1982 working first with Curt Gowdy and later with Joe Garagiola. In 1983, NBC hired Vin Scully as its lead play-by-play voice and Vin wanted no part of a three-man booth. So NBC decided to shift Garagiola into the lead analyst role alongside Scully and demoted Kubek to the "B" team where he worked with Bob Costas. Kubek remained in the #2 analyst role at NBC for 7 years. I believe this ranks as the most controversial lead analyst demotion of all time. On the plus side, Bob and Tony meshed so well together and I still consider them my favorite national baseball telecast tandem.

Bob Griese (12 years as lead ABC college football analyst)

ABC had used Griese as the top analyst for its NCAA games starting in 1987 where he worked with Keith Jackson. Griese remained in that role through the 1998 season. In 1999, ABC shuffled its broadcast crews and went without a true #1 team after Jackson switched to primarily covering west coast games. Griese remained on one of the crews which ABC treated as essentially co-#1. However, the network used Gary Danielson as the analyst for the BCS championship game that year.

Merlin Olsen (10 years as lead NBC NFL analyst)

Olsen had been in the #1 role at NBC from 1979-1988 working alongside Dick Enberg. In 1989, NBC brought in Bill Walsh as its new top analyst and demoted Olsen to the #2 slot. Merlin remained at NBC for only one season before taking an analyst position with CBS.

Bud Wilkinson (10 years as lead ABC college football analyst)

Wilkinson had served as the lead analyst on the ABC NCAA package from 1966 to 1975. He worked first with Chris Schenkel and later with Keith Jackson. In 1976, ABC demoted Wilkinson after it hired recently retired coach Ara Parseghian as lead analyst. Wilkinson remained with ABC for one season calling lower tier games.

Tom Brookshier (6.5 years as lead CBS NFL analyst)

Brookshier had been the lead CBS analyst since midway through the 1974 season when the network moved Pat Summerall into the top play-by-play role. That duo formed the #1 CBS team through the 1980 season. In 1981, CBS elevated John Madden into the lead analyst spot and shifted Brookshier to a play-by-play position on a lower tier crew. Brookshier remained with CBS for 6 more seasons after the demotion.

Don Drysdale (5 years as lead ABC MLB analyst)

Drysdale had been the top analyst on ABC Monday Night Baseball from 1978-1982. In 1983, ABC hired recently retired manager Earl Weaver as the new lead analyst. Drysdale stayed with ABC for 4 more seasons and became the play-by-play announcer on the "B" team.

Clark Kellogg (5 years as lead CBS college basketball analyst)

Kellogg was the #1 analyst on NCAA basketball for CBS 2008-09 through 2012-13. In September 2013, CBS promoted Greg Anthony to lead analyst. Kellogg became the lead studio analyst, but continued to serve as a game analyst on a lower tier crew.

Many cases involving a change to #1 analyst position featured an announcer retiring or moving to another network. Most of the long tenured lead analysts such as Billy Packer, Al McGuire, John Madden, and Tim McCarver were never demoted.

For completeness, here is a summary of the other cases when a network demoted its top analyst:


  Kyle Rote (3 years)
  • #1 for NBC from 1968-1970
  • demoted in 1971 for Al DeRogatis
  • remained with NBC in #2 analyst role for 3 years
  John Brodie (1 year)
  • #1 for NBC in 1977 
  • partially demoted in 1978 when NBC essentially used co-#1 crews of Brodie (paired with Curt Gowdy) and Merlin Olsen (paired with Dick Enberg)  
  • fully demoted in 1979 when NBC made Enberg and Olsen #1
  • remained with NBC in analyst role through 1984
  Bob Trumpy (3 years)
  • #1 for NBC from 1992-1994
  • demoted in 1995 for the duo of Paul Maguire and Phil Simms
  • remained with NBC in analyst role for 3 years


  Sandy Koufax (2 years)
  • co-#1 for NBC from 1967-1968 (Koufax and Pee Wee Reese were on a 3-man "A" crew)
  • demoted in 1969 for Tony Kubek
  • remained with NBC as "B" team analyst for 4 years
  Bob Uecker (2 years)
  • #1 for ABC from 1976-1977
  • demoted in 1978 for Don Drysdale
  • remained with ABC as "B" team analyst for 5 years
 Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci (2 years)
  • co-#1 for Fox from 2014-2015
  • both demoted in 2016 for John Smoltz
  • each remained with Fox in a lower-tier game analyst role


  Tom Heinsohn (4 years)
  • #1 for CBS from 1983-84 to 1986-87
  • demoted in 1987-88 season for Billy Cunningham
  • remained with CBS in analyst role for 3 years
  Matt Guokas (4 years)
  • #1 for NBC from 1993-94 to 1996-97
  • demoted in 1997-98 season for Doug Collins and Isiah Thomas
  • remained with NBC in analyst role for 4 years
  Hubie Brown (2 years)
  • #1 for ABC from 2005-05 to 2005-06
  • demoted in 2006-07 for Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy
  • has remained with ABC in #2 analyst role ever since

college football

  Ara Parseghian (1 year)
  • #1 for ABC in 1976
  • partially demoted in 1977 when ABC hired Frank Broyles - ABC essentially treated both Broyles and Parseghian as #1 analysts by alternating which of them was paired with Keith Jackson each telecast
  • fully demoted in 1981 when ABC made Broyles the sole #1 analyst 
  • remained with ABC as an analyst that year before moving to CBS in 1982
  Pat Haden (2 years)
  • #1 for CBS from 1982-1984
  • demoted in 1985 for Ara Parseghian
  • remained with CBS as an analyst for 5 more years (and was reinstated as the #1 analyst in 1987)

Monday, February 11, 2013

The NBC false claim - and opening night of 1980 Winter Olympics on ABC

NBC recently issued a press release claiming that its planned coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics would feature the first ever prime time event coverage before the opening ceremony. However, this NBC claim is false. In 1980, ABC opened its Winter Olympics coverage in prime time on Tues 2/12 from 9:30 - 11 pm ET, one night before the opening ceremony on Wed 2/13. (For completeness, ABC did the same thing in 1984 for the Sarajevo games.)

<Update 2/25/2013: ABC also provided prime time coverage the night before the opening ceremony in 1976 for the Innsbruck games (per a blog comment which I have verified).>

I watched the Olympics on ABC that opening Tuesday in 1980 and recall the oddity of televised event coverage prior to the opening ceremony. I also found multiple newspaper archives which supported my memory. Today, I was involved in some Twitter exchanges which helped proved this claim false - Fang's Bites provided a nice summary.

I also just found video proof which further supplements this research. This ABC promo clip runs down the ABC prime time schedules including the Olympics coverage for both 2/12 and 2/13:

The ABC coverage that first night included Al Michaels and Ken Dryden calling parts of the USA-Sweden hockey game from Lake Placid. That game took place 33 years ago tomorrow.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The 1975 Howard Cosell Saturday night variety show on ABC

In the fall of 1975, ABC and executive producer Roone Arledge took a bold step by creating a prime time variety series and installing sportscaster Howard Cosell as the host. With this show, ABC hoped to recapture the magic of the classic Ed Sullivan Show.

At the time, Cosell was one of the most recognizable personalities in the media industry. In 1970, ABC launched Monday Night Football and inserted Cosell into the broadcast booth. This package revolutionized the way TV networks treated prime time and Cosell was a key factor in its success. He was a polarizing figure who was never afraid to voice strong opinions. While many viewers despised the controversial Cosell, they would tune in to hear what Howard might have to say, and that worked well for Arledge.

Cosell had also branched into the entertainment arena via guest appearances on TV sitcoms such as The Odd Couple and in movies like Woody Allen's Bananas. He was frequently cast as himself in these roles.

Arledge felt that he could capitalize on the notoriety of Cosell and use the new variety show to boost ABC's entertainment ratings. This promotional clip provides insight into the ambitious expectations ABC had for the show. It also illustrates the pomposity of the one-and-only Cosell.

Cosell had many connections and believed this would enable the variety show to attract the top names in entertainment. Howard actually thought he could convince The Beatles to reunite on his opening show. He approached John Lennon with this idea, but Lennon turned him down.

ABC titled the 60-minute show Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell and debuted it on 9/20/1975. ABC televised this series live (but showed it on tape delay on the west coast to fit it into the prime time schedule). It originated each Saturday night at 8 pm ET from the Ed Sullivan Theater in Manhattan.

Leading up to the premiere, ABC heavily promoted the show both on the network and with large ads in major newspapers. ABC specifically hyped the live entertainment angle as most other variety shows of the era were taped and edited for later airing. ABC would also cross-promote the variety show on the Monday NFL games and have Cosell plug the upcoming football game during the Saturday show.

ABC booked the shows with a mix of Hollywood stars, musicians, comedians, circus performers, and sports celebrities. The series utilized a regular comedy trio of Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Christopher Guest which ABC billed as the Prime Time Players.

Cosell was so nervous before the opening show that he wanted cue cards for backup despite the fact that he was legendary for doing his daily radio commentaries without notes or a script. That initial episode included Frank Sinatra, John Denver, Paul Anka, Shirley Bassey, Jimmy Connors, and the cast of The Wiz. It also featured two live remotes. one from London (just after 1 AM local time) with The Bay City Rollers rock band and another from Las Vegas of a Siegfried and Roy illusion act with lions. Media reviews for the debut were mediocre at best.

On the second show, Cosell conducted live interviews with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier a few days before their epic boxing match in Manila.

The live nature of the show led to some problems. On the 10/25 show, an Evel Knievel segment ran long so the producers determined that singing group Labelle would only have time for one song rather than the two they were promised. Upon learning this, the group refused to take the stage which forced Cosell to fill time roaming the audience.

Unfortunately for ABC, this series flopped in the ratings and received many negative reviews from newspaper critics. In the 10/9 Chicago Tribune, columnist Gary Deeb claimed to have information from "inside sources at ABC" that the cancellation of the show was a "foregone conclusion". At that point, ABC had only aired three episodes. On 11/26, just over two months into the run, ABC officially cancelled the show, but announced that it would stay on the air through mid-January. Overall, ABC produced 15 live episodes and three reruns over 18 weeks.

Don Mischer who directed the variety show recently did an interview looking back at his experience with Cosell and Arledge. He commented on the haphazard nature of booking live entertainment such as the night Arledge contacted Lionel Hampton about an hour before air time and slotted him into the show.

That same season, NBC launched a late night live series on 10/11/1975 called NBC's Saturday Night which aired at 11:30 pm ET. Unlike the ABC show, the NBC version proved successful and remains on TV. NBC termed their comedy team the Not Ready for Prime Time Players as a takeoff on the name ABC used. NBC would eventually adopt the name Saturday Night Live for its show.

On 4/13/1985, Cosell hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live on NBC. In the opening monologue, he reflected back on his ABC variety show in typical Cosell style.

Here is a chronology of Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell on ABC with select guests by episode:

9/20/1975 - mentioned above
9/27 - John Wayne, Redd Foxx, Barbara Walters, Linda Ronstadt, Harry Blacksone Jr., The Eagles
10/4 - Alan King, Charo, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, The Bay City Rollers
10/11 - Bill Cosby, Barry Manilow, Andy Griffith, Joe Frazier, Roberta Flack, The Rockettes
10/18 - Johnny Cash, Gabe Kaplan, Muhammad Ali, Evel Knievel, Ronee Blakley
10/25 - Soupy Sales (in Sea World), Evel Knievel, Kate Smith, Steve Landesberg, Chinese Acrobats of Taiwan
11/1 - Lee Majors, O.J. Simpson, George Burns, Walter Matthau, Joan Sutherland, Steve Landesberg, Rene Simard, The Rockettes
11/8 - Billy Crystal, Roy Clark, Ted Kennedy, Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Esther Satterfield
11/15 - Andy Williams, Norm Crosby, Marilyn Michaels, Mark Wilson, Linda Hopkins
11/22 - Lionel Hampton, Tony Bennett, Lynn Anderson, John Byner, Ed Bluestone, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Argentinian Gauchos
11/29 - Bob Hope, Rita Moreno, Doug Kershaw, Billy Eckstine
12/6 - Ben Vereen, Rodney Dangerfield, Olga Korbut, Billy Crystal, Roberta Peters
12/13 - Steve Allen, Robert Merrill, Esther Satterfield, Fred Travalena, Paul Anka, Chuck Mangione
12/20 - rerun
12/27 - rerun
1/3/1976 - rerun
1/10 - Milton Berle, Martin Mull, Charley Pride, Melissa Manchester, The Lockers
1/17 - Billy Crystal, Elayne Boozler, Ed Bluestone, The Bay City Rollers, The Movies


This post is part of a Classic TV Variety Show Blogathon. Check out the great content on the other participating classic TV blogs.